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'Too much criminal legislation'

Sir Ken MacDonald
Law In Action
Tuesday 3 November 2009
BBC Radio 4 1600 GMT

Law in Action gets a unique insight into Sir Ken Macdonald's time as Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales.

His tenure was served in intense, febrile times as government policy focused on tackling terrorism.

He tells the programme how this resulted in too much legislation and on more than one occasion brought him into conflict with government.

7/7 bombings

The wreckage of the bus bombed in Tavistock Square on 7/7 in London
Sir Ken Macdonald QC was DPP on July 7th when three bombs were set off on the tube and one on a bus.

The DPP was ultimately responsible for the prosecution of terrorism in the aftermath of the July bombings in London in 2005.

He says his reaction to the events on that day surprised him. He felt "a peculiar sense of responsibility" that he could have done something to stop the bombings.

"The guilt felt by people in the top jobs led to a danger that people will overreact, which some governments across the western world did".

Speaking out

David Blunkett
Sir Ken did not always agree with then Home Secretary David Blunkett and spoke out against him.

Sir Ken differed from his predecessors because he felt it was right as head of the Crown Prosecution Service, to speak out when he disagreed with government policy.

One of those he came into conflict with was the then Home Secretary David Blunkett.

Mr. Blunkett says "the DPP should have a voice but Sir Ken's privileged position of being able to express himself more clearly inside the system could have been used more effectively."

42 days

The former DPP speaks about his opposition to the government's proposals to hold terror suspects for 42 days without charge.

Jacqui Smith
Jacqui Smith proposed allowing police to hold terror suspects for 42 days without charge.

This was a flagship policy for the government and was pushed hard by the Home Secretary at the time Jacqui Smith.

Sir Ken says that he couldn't agree with the idea saying it was "undermining of civil liberties".

Parliament should 'back off'

He says that a need to be seen to be doing something fuelled a lot of the government's criminal and terror legislation during his time as DPP.

He says that there has been far too much legislation and believes the next parliament could do well to "back off, calm down, and leave criminal justice alone for a while".

'Great tragedy'

Appealing for witnesses outside Stockwell tube station after Jean CHarles de Menezes was shot
Sir Ken decided to prosecute the Met police over the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes.

He is unrepentant about his decisions in the case of Jean Charles de Menezes who was mistakenly shot at Stockwell tube station in the days after the July 7th bombings.

He says that there was no way he could prosecute individual police officers in that case.

"Sometimes great tragedies take place in which there is no criminal culpability and it's not the job of prosecutors to start inventing it".

Meeting the families

Finally he speaks about his day to day role. He tells the story of meeting families to explain his decisions in particular that of Simon Murden another man shot dead by police this time in Humberside.

He says in that case he over-ruled his CPS team and decided there was not a case for prosecuting any police officers in that case.

Contact the programme

If you have thoughts on any of the topics we have covered, or any other legal issues, you can contact us by email at, or by post at Law In Action, BBC White City, Wood Lane, London W12 7TS.

BBC Radio 4's Law In Action was broadcast on Tuesday 3 November 2009 at 1600 GMT and repeated on Thursday 5 November at 2002 GMT.

Subscribe to the Law in Action podcast.

Your comments

With reference to the shooting dead by police, without warning, of a "disturbed man", the issue should surely have been treated as a killing and police should have been prosecuted. What about the stun guns there was great publicity about, and what about the pepper spray all police officers now carry on their belts?

In the USA, where all officers carry firearms, if there is a shooting, the policemen involved is suspended from duty immediately whilst the incident is investigated by Internal Affairs. If they find that the officer has NOT followed procedure, he is prosecuted for manslaughter. We need a similar system to apply in Britain.

I feel that the police have lost a great deal of respect as the result of rushed and faulty legislation, by politicians and civil servants following political agendas.
John Hill

Whilst Sir Ken appears an extremely conscientious and decent individual, I believe that either he or the law of the land was and remains wrong. Surely, the shooting to death of an innocent man was and still is, under the current law of England & Wales, a criminal offence no matter who it was who pulled the trigger. You failed to put to him the one question that would require the essential answer: "how is the killing of an innocent man by armed police now justified under current legislation?"
Mr Kim Sabido

Listening to the excellent discussion between Messrs Coleman and MacDonald, it was hard not to see an imbalance between his "hands-off" defence of justice and apparent tolerance of the police shootings (plural).
Malcolm Cochran

Law in Action


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